Review: Killer Dolphin

Killer Dolphin (Inspector Alleyn #24), Ngaio Marsh. New York: Felony & Mayhem Press, 2015 (originally published in 1966).

Summary: Through an accident, a playwright realizes his dream of a renovated Dolphin Theatre, with packed houses for one of his plays, until a murder occurs and a boy actor is badly injured in a botched theft.

Peregrine Jay is a playwright and director with a dream–to restore the old Dolphin Theatre to the glory it enjoyed under Adolphus Ruby. The building suffered wartime damage with a bomb that left a hole in the stage, and it is in otherwise solid, but decayed shape. Jay arranges to tour the building, and despite being warned, falls through the hole in the stage into a well beneath where water has collected. He’s in danger of drowning when a rescuer comes, pulls him out and takes him to his estate where he is clothed and refreshed. This unlikely savior is the owner of the property who feels responsible for the accident.

Vassily Conducis is a rich magnate with a mysterious manner. In the course of their conversation, he shows Jay a glove that has been authenticated as that of young Hamnet Shakespeare, who predeceased his more illustrious father. It inspires Jay to write a play. Also, under the influence of too much to drink, Peregrine Jay shares his dreams for the Dolphin Theatre. Amazingly, Conducis agrees to bankroll this, working through his business agent, Greenslade.

Months later, the Dolphin gleams in its former glory, Jay has written his play, which will debut at the theatre with its twin dolphins in the lobby. The cast is brilliant if wrought with turmoil–dislikes, broken romances and jealousies, and one difficult to work with actor, W. Hartly Grove, a rival to Marcus Knight on and off stage. Conducis, otherwise removed from the day to day operations, insisted on his inclusion. The other thing insisted upon is a display of the glove, in a glass window, part of a protective safe, very secure, but with an easily guessable combination created by the business manager of the theatre. Superintendent Alleyn has overseen the security arrangements, expressing concerns about that combination.

The play is a wild success on its own merits as well as the draw of the rare glove. On the night before the glove is to be removed to be sold to an American buyer (an offense to Jeremy Jones, Jay’s roommate, who designed costumes for the play and believed in keeping Britain’s treasures in Britain) a terrible thing happens. The overnight watchman finds Jobbins, who watched the theatre in the evening, dead, killed by a blow to the head from one of the dolphins. And the annoying boy actor, Trevor Vere has fallen out of the balcony into the stalls and is in a coma with serious injuries. The glove and some documents, missing from the safe, were found nearby.

Alleyn concludes on the basis of evidence that it must be someone in the cast. Who stole the glove? And why? If Trevor comes around, will he be the guilty one, or know who is? What about Jeremy? And other cast members have motives, as well as connections with the mysterious Mr. Conducis. And what will become of Peregrine Jay’s dream and budding romance with Emily Dunne.

One of the things striking about this work is Marsh’s descriptions of the theatre. One could almost draw sketches of the interior, or at least envision the theatre in one’s mind. She paints not only a picture of this grand old building rising from the river, but evokes an atmosphere of wharves and watercraft, workers and the theatre crowd, all in the mix of this space. What may have been less satisfying was the stereotypic theatre cast, the vain star, the ditzy actress, the rogue, the lover snubbed, the spoiled child actor. There is a fascinating observation about how actors thrive on the drama and emotion within the caste, using it in their acting. I wonder. At any rate, it all worked to advance the story but they all just seemed to be types, with only Peregrine Jay evoking any interest, as well as Conducis, when he appears, definitely one of Marsh’s more interesting character.

Alleyn, of course is drawn into it all, handling the security surrounding the glove. As always, one of the most satisfying aspects of these stories is his patient piecing together of evidence, stories, and histories bringing the case to a successful, and surprising conclusion. This is an engaging book for those who like their mysteries with a bit of “head” on them.

Review: Worshiping with the Reformers

Worshiping with the Reformers, Karin Maag. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021.

Summary: A survey of the various worship practices of Reformed church bodies, revealing the diversity of practices and the reasons for those differences.

The Reformation led to many changes in the church. Among these were changes in various worship practices that reflected the changes in thinking about the worship of God by church leaders. Not all those changes were in the same direction. This book, a companion to IVP Academic’s Reformation Commentary Series, surveys these practices and the reasons behind them.

The book examines eight aspects of the church’s worship beginning with the matter of when people went to church. In many settings, attendance was more or less an expected duty, with the key driving factor of observance of the sabbath. Businesses were closed and activities banned that could distract from Sabbath attendance. At the same time, feast days were pared down, and many considered superstitious. What they did in worship is the second topic. I learned that seating was often arranged in a circle around a central pulpit, emphasizing the priority of preaching. A real challenge was attention, including the dealing with the problem of fights breaking out! Weddings in many settings occurred during worship, with the whole church witnessing vows. So did not only funerals but burials, a carryover of medieval practice that where the living literally worshipped atop their dead kin, buried under the floor!

As already mentioned, preaching took on a central role in Reformed churches. Calvinist and Lutheran groups tended toward more doctrinally oriented preaching while Anabaptist focused more on moral exhortation. Adherence to scripture was emphasized throughout and the training of pastors took on a greater priority. Regarding prayer, churches varied, though for all prayer in the context of worship was considered vital. Some focused more on the use of scriptures, particularly the Psalms and the Lord’s prayer, others on liturgy, which had a strongly participatory element. While the content shifted, prayer books continued to be important in teaching people to pray. Posture was debated–standing, seated, kneeling. This chapter includes a wonderful historic rationale for set prayers, over against extemporaneous prayer.

As is well known, baptism and communion were widely debated–their meaning, administration, their timing. Maag covers all of this without arguing a particular conclusion. She offers a fascinating discussion of the visual arts in worship and the tension between instruction and idolatry. She also explores music, the preference for simpler tunes for congregational singing, psalms versus, hymns, and the controversies around instruments, including organs. While some preferred a capella singing, the importance of instruments was to keep the singing from dragging, which tends to happen with unaccompanied singing. These were not simply matters of taste but of theology. Finally, Maag considers worship outside the church including the practices of pilgrimage, the care for the sick and dying, and household worship.

This is a highly readable survey rather than a granular treatment. We are introduced to dominant characteristics of worship in Reformed settings, and offered helpful bibliographies for more specialized study. Maag articulates that one of her hopes is that understanding the decisions, sometimes different, that the Reformers made will help Christians be more thoughtful of the Triune God they worship and how they give expression to that worship. It also strikes me that there is history from which we may learn without repeating the same contentions. Most of all, we learn that many things were done for theological reasons, rather than contemporary taste. Of course the spirit and manner in which this is done, with devotion and warmth and love for God rather than a judgmental sterility seems vitally important. Soli Deo Gloria!


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Aging Faithfully

Aging Faithfully, Alice Fryling. Colorado Springs, NavPress, 2021.

Summary: An exploration of the questions that come with the changes of growing older and the invitations of God in those changes.

It seems that the mantra among those of my age group is “growing old ain’t for sissies.” You might think that those of us who have been at this game of life for awhile might have it figured out. What some may not realize is this is a new game, and we are rank beginners at it. Our bodies are changing, we are retiring from work, and maybe other pursuits of earlier years, our relationships with family, church, and others may be changing, and even our relationship with God may be changing as we let go of old patterns and open up to new ones. There are fears: about finances, about our relationship with our children, about losses of mental and physical abilities, and what the process of dying will be like for us.

Alice Fryling has written a beautiful book that engages all of these matters, some of which may even be hard to talk about and yet they may not be far from our thoughts. She writes as one in the midst of this process, seeing changes in her life situation, her body, and even in the things she wants to do and believes are God’s invitations. She shares her own journey even as she helps us to explore the contours of ours.

She begins by acknowledging that we are on a journey into the unknown, but that like the ancient explorers, it may lead to new places we did not know were there. She discusses retirement, not only from work but also some of the former activities that came with our working lives. Successive images of blossoms blooming and fallen, sap running, fruitfulness, and the best wine and new wineskins offer hope for what is fermenting, growing anew in our lives. She explores aging as a time of new birth, shedding the lies of the false self, even good, spiritual lies that no longer have a hold on us as we embrace what Christ is forming in us.

She acknowledges the losses of past work, of body, the importance of listening to the body’s messages and not denying the losses, but bringing them to God and opening ourselves to how we might be renewed inwardly when our bodies begin failing us. She talks about how we may struggle with the loss of control that sleep represents, and observes that insomnia, an accompaniment of aging, is also a loss of control, and another opportunity to surrender to the care of God. She considers letting go and our resistance to it. She observes how letting go may be a gift, as we acknowledge the changing desires in our hearts. We give up on “shoulding” and give ourselves to the “discipline of irresponsibility” that may be the first steps to responding to the Spirit’s invitations.

She confronts our fears and where we find peace as God leads us a step at a time. She deals with feelings of uselessness, loneliness, brokenness, and the concerns of the last season of our lives. Then in the epilogue, there is a wonderful summary by the decades of the sixties, seventies, and eighties of the questions that we may ask ourselves, and the sound counsel at any age that what we need are people who listen, not to solve us, but to draw us out. Appendices offer help with relevant scripture passages, an interview with her husband Bob, and a discussion what different groups–parents and children–would have the others know.

Alice Fryling’s honesty about questions, losses, letting go, and how she has found hope and peace is helpful. If you’ve reached our age, you are asking the questions and it helps to know one isn’t alone. Reflection questions and spiritual practices concluding the chapters offer opportunities to begin to listen for the invitations of God of which she speaks. As she proposes, the coming years are undiscovered country for all of us. I long not so much to know what they hold as to be found faithful in Christ to the end. Fryling offers the encouragement that the Lord desires this for us even more than we do, and will guide us safe home.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Cloud Cuckoo Land

Cloud Cuckoo Land, Anthony Doerr. New York: Scribner, 2021.

Summary: A story of five characters living in three time periods, whose lives are tied together by the story of Aethon the shepherd written by Antonius Diogenes.

I ordered this one as soon as I could. I thought Anthony Doerr’s All the Light You Cannot See one of the best novels I’ve read in the past twenty years. The novel won a Pulitzer Prize and I couldn’t wait to see how he would follow that tour de force. I guess my response, having read the book, would be to say, “It’s complicated….”

For one thing, it is complicated as a story, really three stories occurring in three time periods of five people whose lives are tied together by another story. The story that ties these three together is of Aethon the shepherd who embarks on a quest to find a mythical city in the clouds where all his questions will be answered and longings met. Successively, he is transformed into a donkey, a fish, and a crow before he finds the city and gains admission at the gates. The story is actually based on a few extant fragments of The Wonders of Thule, the remainders of an 1800 year old manuscript by Antonius Diogenes, according to a note by Doerr.

The first story is occurs in 1452-53, in the attack on Constantinople. Anna, an apprentice seamstress, to supplement her wages to get medical help for her sister, becomes a petty thief, climbing a tower with a lost library. While her and her accomplice sell various items, she keeps an old, somewhat mildewed book that is the tale of Aethon, which she reads to her dying sister, and preserves as a treasure, which in later years made it to the Vatican. Eventually she flees the city, meeting up with Omeir, ostensibly an enemy, a hare-lipped young man, something of an outcast, whose gentle life had been spent tending oxen used to transport siege materials. They flee together to his home.

The second story is in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, from the 1930’s to the 2050’s. The older of the characters is Zeno, a gay Korean war surviving POW, who first heard Aethon’s story from Rex, an antiquities scholar from England and fellow prisoner. Zeno returned to Lakeport, Idaho, where he spent an uneventful life as a plow driver, punctuated by a visit to Rex and his gay lover in England. Subsequently, through the local librarian, he learns of a digitized version of the only surviving manuscript of the story of Aethon. Consulting with Rex, he spends his retirement years translating an annotated version of the story, until enlisted one day by the librarian, Marian, to help her occupy a group of five fifth graders. He turns his translation into a play that he rehearses with the fifth graders and it is on the night of the rehearsal that he has his fateful encounter with Seymour.

Seymour is an autistic youth raised by a single mom in a double-wide she inherited, as she struggles in low wage jobs to make ends meet. What helps him survive are woods behind his home, where he encounters Trustyfriend, an owl he sits with who brings peace to the cacophony of his autistic world–until developers turn the woods into a high end development. Trustyfriend disappears. And then one day, he finds the wing of an owl. Over time, he becomes an extreme environmental activist, drawn into a dark web group for which he must commit an act of violent protest to be initiated. He chooses to make a bomb to blow up the library–on the night of the rehearsal.

The third story center around Konstance, the precocious daughter of a scientist father and teacher mother on an instellar, multigenerational voyage in the twenty-second century, who heard the story of Aethon from her father before being confined in quarantine when a disease sweeps through the ship, apparently killing all the others. Sybil, the all-knowing “Hal” of the ship will not release her, so she begins to research the story of Aethon, reassembling the scraps of the manuscript and tracing the provenance of the story, including a beautifully bound copy she sees in a digital image in a window of her father’s childhood home.

Doerr moves back and forth between the three stories, weaving successive episodes of the story of Aethon through the whole narrative. As I said, it’s complicated, layered…and for me, it worked, in ways both similar and different to All the Light We Cannot See. Like that book, children play a significant role here, as well as one older storyteller. In the first story, two children on the opposite sides in a siege intersect, with a very different result. Like that book I hear Doerr’s quiet voice unfolding a story of beauty and pathos What is so different is the use of an overarching story to connect the other three, a story that transforms characters in each of the three stories.

Perhaps the import of this all is in the dedication: “For the librarians then, now, and in the years to come.” The narrative is about the preservation of a book, a story nearly lost, hidden in a derelict library, digitized in another, translated in a third, and rediscovered in a fourth. A library played a powerful shaping role on the life of Zeno, as it did on the five children in this play, one of who turns out to be an ancestor of Konstance. A bibliophile at one point in the story reminds us that out of the thousands of ancient Greek plays, we have only thirty-two. Books may be destroyed by fire, water, mold and mildew, insects, shredding, and in our digital age, by erasure or the degradation of digital information or obsolescence of the devices on which the books are read. Doerr offers a quiet polemic for the protection of the stories of our civilization and the vital role of libraries and librarians in that work.

All this occurs against an apocalyptic backdrop, the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans, the worsening environmental crisis of the present, and the desperate efforts to plant a human civilization on a distant world. Is there a word here that our civilization’s stories may be even more vital to preserve in desperate times when the temptation is great to neglect them? Might we find ourselves even in the seeming silliness of the story of Aethon and profit from the story of his quest? Only if the stories remain.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Boardman Expressway

“Boardman Expressway Work Gets Under Way” Youngstown Vindicator, October 22, 1971 via Google News Archive

This was the groundbreaking, 50 years ago this week, that cut in half the time it would take to get to my girlfriend’s (now wife of 43 years) house on E. Midlothian Boulevard from my house on the West Side. Until 1975, I-680 ended at South Avenue. The Boardman Expressway extended I-680 to E. Midlothian Boulevard. Her house was a few houses east of the freeway. Mine was on Portland Avenue. When the Boardman Expressway opened, I would drive down the street, get on the freeway at Oakwood, and get off at Midlothian in just eight minutes–instead of the fifteen minutes driving up South Avenue, and over Midlothian (or the back way I took up Gibson and a couple other streets). Seven minutes may not seem like much, but when you are in love….

In my mind, the Boardman Expressway was made expressly for me, even though it facilitated movement throughout the city and to the border of Boardman Township. Eventually, the road would extend past Western Reserve Road and link up with the Ohio Turnpike.

The planning for the expressway began in 1956, a few years after I was born. The project would end up costing $16 million dollars. The city’s portion was just $818,000, generated from a 1956 bond issue. State bond issue wasn’t passed until 1968, and federal funds made up the remainder. Bridges had to be built where South Avenue, Gibson, Indianola, and Shirley passed over the road. The expressway would pass over Midlothian, Shady Run and Dewey.

It also displaced a number of people in its path in neighborhoods in the lower part of Gibson, separated neighborhoods near Poland Avenue from the rest of the South side, breaking up Powersdale Avenue, Caledonia and Union Streets, and taking out the homes between Taylor Street and Homewood Avenue. Part of the expressway right of way avoided homes, passing through Pine Hollow until it reached Midlothian Boulevard. In all, hundreds of families were “re-located” which accounted for a number of delays in the project, which went forward in “fits and starts” under several city mayors–Frank Kryzen, Frank R. Franko, Harry Sevasten, Anthony B. Flask, and Jack Hunter. All but Flask were part of the groundbreaking. Interestingly, Franko and Hunter, in the thick of an election campaign against each other, are at opposite ends of the groundbreaking group. These were all names I grew up with.

Also a part of the groundbreaking was J. Philip Richley, at the time Ohio Highway Department Director, and previously Mahoning County and Youngstown City engineer. He told the story of the fifteen year process to get to the groundbreaking. Fittingly, Mayor Hunter presented him the “Key Man Award,” only the third recipient of the award for his contribution to Youngstown’s development. A. P. O’Horo, whose construction equipment appears in the background, spoke as contractor and Edmund Salata as city engineer. The Wilson High School band played. And the work began.

That segment of I-680 was only open for the last couple years we dated. After the summer of 1976. I moved away from Youngstown. We got engaged the following year and married the year after. My wife’s mom lived on Midlothian until 1996, so we made many more trips over that expressway over the years. What was at one time a welcome novelty just became the way to mom’s house. But with a young child in the back seat, we were glad for every minute saved! And my parents were only eight minutes away on the West side–and so it was easy to see all the in-laws in one visit.

I-680 made our lives easier. But it changed the city. It broke up neighborhoods and displaced families. It facilitated travel to the suburbs, the plazas, and the malls. It changed downtown. The same story happened all over the country. One wonders, knowing what we know now, if we would do it over or at least do it in the ways we did. For better or worse, we live in a world of what is rather than what if. At the time, however, all this young man thought of was seeing his girl friend seven minutes sooner.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Website Review: Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America

Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America website screen capture (top of page) 10/21/2021

One of the questions I receive on both my blog and Facebook page runs like this: “I have a copy of_____. Would you have any idea of its value or how I would find out?” I haven’t a clue regarding the first part of that question. I love reading and talking about books, but have never focused on collecting books, particularly old books apart from a treasured Balzac series that passed down from my grandfather. I always direct people to antiquarian booksellers and to this website representing the association of these booksellers in the U.S. (there are similar associations in other countries).

Spurred by reading about the founding of this organization in Book Row which I recently reviewed, I spent some time nosing around on their website. Here’s some of what I found.

The top menu bar can take you nearly anywhere on the site. “Browse and shop” takes you to a page where you can browse antiquarian books in a variety of categories, see recently listings or search for a particular author or title (you can do this from the home page as well). “About the ABAA” is exactly that including the mission statement, their Guarantee and Code of Ethics, how antiquarian booksellers can join (they must be vetted and sponsored by a current member–they cannot just sign up and they must subscribe to the Code of Ethics), their board members and more. “About Antiquarian Books” is a great place to start to learn about antiquarian books, collecting them, and even the vocabulary that is used. “ABAA Booksellers” describes what it takes to become an ABAA Bookseller and provides a search function for finding ABAA Booksellers by area, region or name. Finally, “Events” publicizes upcoming book events, especially book fairs. There is even an article on virtual book fairs in the age of COVID.

Below this is a scrolling banner with recent postings from “The New Antiquarian,” the blog of the association, and other announcements. The blog may also be accessed from a clickable teal colored box in the upper right corner of the page. The below the “creeping” listing of book categories, one can see recent arrivals of books for sale via member booksellers.

Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America website screen capture (bottom of page) October 21, 2021

The bottom of the page is redundant in many respects, with regard to some of the non-bookselling content on the page. The “About” information is offered again with this statement that ought encourage those wishing to buy, sell, or evaluate their books”

The Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America was founded in 1949 to promote interest in rare and antiquarian books and book collecting, and to foster collegial relations. We strive to maintain the highest standards in the trade. All members agree to abide by the ABAA’s Code of Ethics. While our members sell, buy, and appraise books and printed matter, our staff can assist you with finding a bookseller and with other trade-related matters.

Several things stand out. This is a 72 year-old organization–not an internet-come-lately. They work collegially, helping each other serve customers. They have a code of ethics. They are dedicated to serving customers in every aspect of the antiquarian book business.

Also, “below the fold” are a selection of the posts from their blog, other organizational links and a place to sign up for their newsletter. That’s really about it.

One other feature you should note in the scrolling banner is the “catalogues” feature. Catalogues are the lifeblood of antiquarian bookselling. Sellers assemble sales lists of a selection of their books. Glancing through can help you learn about which sellers cater to your interests and give you an idea of the worth of various books and considerations in value. This is a great way to get an education about antiquarian books and you might find something to your liking that could be a nucleus to your collection.

All in all, this is an easily navigable and great place to learn, find books and booksellers, and book events and more, dealing with booksellers who still consider their work an honorable trade worthy of high standards. If you are concerned about such things as you look to buy, sell, or appraise old books, look for booksellers who meet these requirements and display the ABAA logo.

Fall 2021 Book Preview — Assorted Christian Titles

I had a hard time figuring out what to call this collection of books. They are all Christian but not academic theological books. Many are thoughtful books on important questions. Some focus more on devotion and spiritual formation. A couple are particularly for younger readers. All, I think, are important to maintaining a faithful Christian presence in the world. I wanted you to know about them before I get the chance to review them.

Beyond the White Fence, Edith M. Humphrey. Chesterton, IN: Ancient Faith Publishing, 2021. This strikes me as a Chronicles of Narnia-type book in which a mysterious valley beyond a grandmother’s garden leads a young girl into tenth century England.

Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?, Andy Bannister. London: Inter-Varsity Press (UK), 2021. I’ve been asked this question in student ministry and have wrestled both with what we have in common and what is distinct in Christian faith and am intrigued with how Bannister, with a Ph.D in Qur’anic studies will answer this question.

Following the Call, Edited by Charles E. Moore. Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2021. A collection of readings for 52 weeks on how we might live the Sermon on the Mount in community from writers like Wendell Berry, Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa, and many more.

When We Stand, Terence Lester, Foreword by Fr. Gregory Boyle. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2021. When faced with an injustice to be addressed, the author proposes that we are better seeking justice together.

Together in Ministry. Rob Dixon, Foreword Ruth Haley Barton. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. Some think men and women can’t work together in ministry. Dixon has both worked with women in ministry and researched the key attributes and best practices that create flourishing partnerships.

Centering Prayer, Brian D. Russell. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2021. A primer on the practice of sitting silently with God, its history and theological basis, as well as practical advice for dealing with obstacles to this practice that can deepen our relationship with God.

Power Women, Edited by Nancy Wang-Yuen and Deshonna Collier-Goubil. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. The contributors to this book discuss various aspects of how motherhood, academic life and faith can come together.

Stuck in the Present, David George Moore, Foreword by Carl R. Trueman. Abilene, TX: Leafwood Publishers, 2021. A case for the importance of history for Christians enabling us to exercise discernment amid the bombardment of information we face.

Journey Toward Wholeness, Suzanne Stabile. Downers Grove: IVP Formatio, 2021. Within the Enneagram there are three centers of intelligence: thinking, feeling, and doing. This focuses on how we incorporate all of these in living wisely.

Welcome, Holy Spirit, Gordon T. Smith. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. No matter our spiritual tradition, Gordon Smith think we may grow in both our understanding and experience of the Holy Spirit and invites us into that in this book.

Restless Devices, Felicia Wu Song. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. Explores the ways our digital devices form us and challenges us to consider who we want to be.

Stability, Nathan Oates. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2021. In a world on the move, Oates considers the monastic practice of stability to root our lives in God deepening our relationships, churches, and communities.

Cradling Abundance, Monique Misenga Ngoie Mukuna with Elsie Tshimunyi McKee. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. A personal narrative of empowering African women and fighting poverty.

With Fresh Eyes, Karen Wingate. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2021. The author was nearly blind most of her life until surgery restored vision in one of her eyes. These devotions come out of the experience of literally seeing the world anew.

Refuge Reimagined, Mark R. Glanville and Luke Glanville, Foreword by Matthew Soerens. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. Lays a basis for concern for refugees through the lens of biblical kinship, our mutual responsibility that extends to the marginalized.

Good Works, Keith Wasserman and Christine D. Pohl. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2021. Athens, Ohio is home to a state university in the heart of Appalachian poverty. Good Works has provided housing, support, care, and community to this population. This is a ministry with which I’m familiar and I’m excited to read this narrative co-written by its founder and a scholar of hospitality.

Thirsting for Living Water, Michael Mantel, Foreword by Richard Stearns. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2021. An account of the director of a ministry providing fresh water and the living water of available to all of us in God’s redemptive work.

A Sacred Journey, Paul Nicholas Wilson. Bloomington, IN: Westbow Press, 2021. A university professor seeks to articulate what faithful presence looks like for academics in secular settings.

Saint Nicholas the Giftgiver, Retold and illustrated by Ned Bustard. Downers Grove: IVP Kids, 2021. This is one of the debut books in InterVarsity Press’s new IVP Kids imprint and features a poetic rendering of the Saint Nicholas story asking who this giftgiver is and why all the presents. Ned Bustard not only retells the story but complements this with his wonderful illustrations!

I was taught as a young Christ follower that the growing Christian is a reading Christian. These are books to help us grow toward God, toward each other and toward God’s world. Where might God be inviting you to grow and is there a book or two here that might be a good companion on that journey of growth?

Review: Paul & The Power of Grace

Paul & the Power of Grace, John M. G. Barclay. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2020.

Summary: Looks at the theology of Paul through the lens of grace, an unconditioned and incongruous gift for Jew and Gentile alike, personally and socially transformative.

John M. G. Barclay stirred up a conversation in Pauline studies in 2015 with the publication of Paul and the Gift, an analysis of what Paul meant by “grace.” This book represents both a distillation and extension of the ideas of the former book. It is less technical, expands the analysis beyond Galatians and Romans while summarizing the previous work in these texts well, and does more to consider the present implications of these ideas.

His central contention, based on analysis of charis in other Second Temple Jewish texts, and especially of Paul in Galatians and Romans, is that grace may be understood as God’s unconditioned and incongruous gift that is both personally and socially transformative. “Unconditioned” emphasizes that there is nothing the individual does to deserve the gift. It is not unconditional, because the empowering presence of God’s grace in those who trust in Christ, is meant to transform people who live new lives in dying bodies, and transforms social relationships, creating a new community making no distinctions by ethnicity, gender, or status. All this is redounds to the glory of God. It is also incongruous whether for the Gentiles as uncircumcised outsiders or for disobedient Jews. Indeed, Barclay points to Paul’s argument in Romans 9-11 as an example of the incongruity of grace in saving all Israel.

In this work, Barclay extends his analysis to the Corinthian correspondence and Philippians. He notes Paul’s treatment of grace and power in Corinth, how the incongruity of grace overturns the power value system of Corinth. and what it means to be “in Christ,” as Christ’s gift of himself to the believer in Philippians. He then extends the significance of grace as gift in inspiring giving communities, generously given to one another where all are cared for, as well as to other communities, as in the offering for Jerusalem, from when the gift of Christ arose.

Barclay addresses the various “perspectives” on Paul and what his own contributes to each. To the traditional Protestant view, his unconditioned but not unconditional reconciles the free aspect of grace and the obedience of faith as the consequence of grace. To Catholics, there are not two stages of grace, but grace transforms, eventuating in good works. For the New Perspective folks, the incongruity of grace explains the inclusion of the Gentiles and the hope for the nation of Israel. For the “Paul within Judaism” people, the incongruity of grace reconfigures his understanding of the law in ways that offer hope both for Israel and the nations.

A concluding chapter considers contemporary implications. Incongruous grace doesn’t recognize distinctions when it comes to who is included. The generosity of giving is one that recognizes all are “gifted,” regardless of economic status. And we all need the gifts of each other as manifestations of God’s incongruous gift.

I appreciate the explicit focus on “grace” in Paul, both for the correctives Barclay brings to notions that smack of “cheap grace” while focusing on the incongruous, unconditioned initiative of God. I’ve often sensed that grace gets eclipsed in the covenantal nomism and focus on faithfulness in various renderings of the New Perspective. Yet Barclay draws on the wealth of learning about Second Temple Judaism to sharpen our understanding of grace such that we don’t read the Reformation back into the New Testament language of grace. And the material about how grace transforms in this volume casts a joyful vision of the possible of our life in Christ, where incongruent grace transforms us into people living congruently with that grace.

Review: Book Row

Book Row, Marvin Mondlin and Roy Meador. New York: Skyhorse, 2019 (originally published in 2003).

Summary: A history of Book Row, a collection of used and antiquarian bookstores along and around Fourth Avenue in New York City.

Most of us who have loved books for many years have our favorite used and antiquarian bookstores. Many are memories. Others are still operating. Some were in out of the way places, some in bigger cities. In some cases, I remember places with multiple stores near one another. I think of some college towns like Ann Arbor and Madison where you could go from one store to the next. At one time, Harvard Square was like that. Now imagine all of those stores in one place, within walking distance of each other. There once was a place like that in New York City, known as Book Row, with upwards of twenty five stores along a one mile stretch on Fourth Avenue or one of the side streets. The heyday of Book Row ran from the 1890’s to the 1970’s.

Marvin Mondlin and Roy Meador are Book Row veterans who have captured in a thoroughly enjoyable account the wonder of this place. One can almost smell the books and imagine the booksellers who delighted in the poor college students and the curmudgeons who begrudgingly permitted the worthy into their domains. They begin with George D. Smith, who began selling on Fourth Avenue in the 1890’s and created the ideal of the Book Row bookseller. He was among the foremost of antiquarian booksellers, who both acquired collections and helped build some of the greatest collections including that of Henry Huntington. He started his store near the Bible House, the home of the American Bible Society, which played a surprising role in many of the stores. He was a pioneer in the use of catalogues to market his books. He was a master on the auction floor, trusted by many famous clients to acquire books.

The authors go on to recount the lives of the other stores and booksellers along Fourth Avenue. What is striking is how importance the training of these booksellers was. They worked for publishers, they served as “book scouts” for established stores in acquiring needed inventory, they apprenticed in stores learning every aspect of the business. Then, often still at a young age, they launched out on there own, or sometimes with a partner. (The two Jacks, Biblo and Tannen, complemented each other in temperament and skills in one of the most famous Book Row businesses.) One of the marvelous aspects that comes up again and again is how booksellers actually helped newcomers enter the business, offering lots of books at low prices.

Perhaps part of the reason for this practice was the realization that Book Row was a draw because of the sheer number of stores. Everyone from poor college students buying books in the outdoor bins (seven for a quarter!) to rich collectors as well as business people and travelers from all over the country and the world came to Book Row to feed their particular love of books. The booksellers built on this shared interest and formed the Fourth Avenue Booksellers Association whose first act was to fight efforts to remove the sidewalk bargain stands that moved merchandise and brought people into the stores. They worked together from the 1940’s on to promote Book Row as a destination and eventually to host book fairs. They also contributed support and leadership to the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America, which continues to promote the ethics and interests of the antiquarian book trade to this day.

Why did Book Row, apart from the venerable Strand, not survive? Two words: “rents” and “age.” Some operations, like the Strand, passed through two or more generations (three at least with the Strand). But beginning in the 1950’s several things happened. Wanamakers, the department store that was a magnet to the district, closed. The building owners started raising rents or seeking to convert buildings to high rent apartments. For a time, booksellers moved to lower rent storefronts. Some converted to doing mail order out of their homes, no longer opening their shops to “off the street” trade. Some moved away, opening shops elsewhere for a time. By the 1970’s, few were left and by the 1990’s they were all gone.

For a time, only the Strand, which owns its own building, was left (and still is, a destination in itself, with its miles of books). Then Steve Crowley opened Alabaster Books in 1997, still in business at the date of this review. The book also mentions Gallagher’s Art & Fashion Gallery, which was still in business in 2004 but no longer appears online. So it is now one store plus the Strand holding up the legacy of Book Row.

Oh, how I wish I’d visited Book Row in its heyday! I would have thought I’d died and gone to book heaven. This book is the next best thing. The accounts of the stores and their proprietors offered hours of delight imagining browsing those shelves. While Book Rows have disappeared in all but a few of the world’s great cities, there are stores still to be found, and even new ones that have opened during the pandemic. If you are so fortunate to have one nearby, treasure it while you can. The business is not easy and not one that usually enriches the bookseller, who certainly cannot survive on your good wishes alone. I cannot imagine that wandering from website to website would every be as delightful as a day spent wandering among the stores on Book Row. What a time that must have been!

Review: Getting to the Promised Land

Getting to the Promised Land , Kevin W. Cosby, Foreword by Cornel West. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2021.

Summary: An argument for the use of the Nehemiah narratives rather than Exodus to ground the appeal by American Descendents of Slaves (ADOS) for restitution for the centuries of abuse they and their ancestors suffered.

Most often, Black preaching and rhetoric appeals to the Exodus narratives to cast a vision for throwing off the yoke of oppression and coming into the freedom of the Promised Land. Indeed, the title of this book might lead one to think that this is another lesson in Exodus preaching. That is not the case.

Kevin W. Cosby, who has served as pastor of St. Stephen Baptist Church, the largest African American church in Kentucky and the president of Simmons College, a HBCU school, contends for replacing the preaching of Exodus with Nehemiah. He believes the advocacy of Nehemiah for his vulnerable people in Jerusalem, which included material assistance in repairing the walls and legal protection against those who would stop these efforts, is a model for the focused advocacy which American Descendants of Slaves (ADOS) need to make for restitution for the history of forced servitude and subsequent oppression under Jim Crow and other forms of discrimination, the cost of which has been passed down through the generations.

Cosby’s use of the term ADOS was new to me. It is his contention that the cause of the descendants of slaves has been weakened by coalitions with other oppressed groups. He uses Solomon’s alliances as an example of coalitions that weaken identity and leave one’s own group further behind. He also points to Daniel and Ezra who maintain the Jews distinctiveness of identity in exile.

But his central argument is about reparations, first under the decree of Cyrus, later reinforced by Darius, and the support raised by Nehemiah make the case for the importance of reparations in restoring a broken people. Along the way, he uses Hanani’s report to challenge the myth of “movin’ on up” that uses singular examples to minimize the plight of a whole people. He notes how Nehemiah first weeps, then mobilizes people to work opposite their homes, giving them tangible evidence of the importance of their struggle. He commends Nehemiah as a servant rather than a celebrity.

The chapters have the echoes of preached material while also making a cohesive argument for focused advocacy of ADOS people, drawing on the example of Nehemiah. I don’t think it my place to discuss the strategy of focusing upon a particular aggrieved group within the larger Black community. I do think the advocacy, the resources granted, the legal protection with teeth in it, and the servant leadership of Nehemiah, as well as the efforts of Nehemiah and Ezra to maintain Jewish identity are instructive in the advocacy for and of ADOS people.

I do wonder about the exegesis that presses the case for reparations from Nehemiah. It is the case under Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes that material resources are provided for the reconstruction of the temple and later, the walls of Jerusalem, important in the restoration of the returned exiles. But is this truly restitution intended to repair a broken, unjust relationship? The Jews are just as much a subject people in Jerusalem as in Babylon and Susa. Unless it was tacit in the restorative grants, there was no admission of wrongdoing, and certainly no restoration to full self-government. From an earthly standpoint, this appears to be nothing more than a shift in the policy of dealing with subject peoples.

What we do see is the significant effect Nehemiah’s advocacy and the material, legal, and enforcement assistance given the Jews. Can these also be the providence of God for ADOS, even if they reflect political expediency rather than profound repentance? Yet this would seem to “heal lightly” the wounds and the relationships of Blacks and Whites, something we’ve been very good at doing ever since the Civil War. I’m increasingly convinced that some form restitution for ADOS is a necessary part of the healing between white and Black if we are to get the promised land of becoming the beloved community. The question remains of whether we know we are sick and wounded, whether we want to be well, and whether we are willing to accept the cost for what is to be gained.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.